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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Senufo Rhythm Pounders : Female Senufo Wooden Pombilele Rhythm Pounder
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Female Senufo Wooden Pombilele Rhythm Pounder - DC.1488 (LSO)
Origin: Ivory Coast/Mali
Circa: 20 th Century AD
Dimensions: 47" (119.4cm) high x 7" (17.8cm) wide x 6" (15.2cm) depth
Collection: African Art
Medium: Wood

Location: United States
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This striking sculpture is a rhythm pounder or “Pombilele”, made by the Senufo group of the Ivory Coast and Mali. It is sculpted in the likeness of an elongated female figure, with a columnar block base, short legs, a long torso and arms, a thick-set thorax (chest, breasts and shoulders as a cohesive unit) and a high neck. The head is small and compact, with a long jaw and nose, pursed lips and cut-away eyes. The apex of the head is a post-like handle, and the forehead is adorned with a notable eminence that characterises Senufo art (albeit more block- shaped than is common). The face is adorned with incised scarifications on the cheeks, which echo those on the breasts and torso. The wrists are decorated with a bracelet on each side.

The Senufo group, based in the Ivory Coast and Mali area, has a long history of using highly decorated objects in many aspects of everyday life. However, their extremely high level of skill in woodcarving is nowhere better seen than in the realm of their magical-religious art. At the heart of Senufo society is a patriarchal groups of elders known as the Poro society, which is responsible for many religious and more urbane functions to do with the running of the tribal group. Their ceremonial events are often associated with dancing, music and the use of Pombilele sculptures.

“Pombilele” literally translates as “those who give birth”, and traditionally constitute a pair of figures (one male, one female) who represent primordial humanity and the ancestry of all humankind. Most examples, however, are of single, female figures. The appearance of these figures is relatively homogenous, being tall, slim and somewhat angular. However, the personal characteristics of each sculpture were often based upon a dream or vision by a Poro elder. The figures were used either as pounding devices to keep the rhythm for dancing, or were stood for purposes of contemplation in the middle of the Poro society’s sacred enclosures. They are also used for the interment of prominent Poro members; they are carried to the graveside with the dead body, then used to tamp down the earth on top of the grave, to ensure that the spirit of the dead is directed to the afterlife rather than returning to haunt the living.

This is a striking and attractive piece of African art.

- (DC.1488 (LSO))


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